SPORTS

Landon Cassill heading to 2017 with perspective

Cedar Rapids native had career year in 2016, believes much more is possible with Front Row Motorsports

Cedar Rapids native Landon Cassill climbs into his No. 38 Ford before the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on Sunday, Feb. 16, 2016. (Jeremiah Davis/The Gazette)
Cedar Rapids native Landon Cassill climbs into his No. 38 Ford before the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on Sunday, Feb. 16, 2016. (Jeremiah Davis/The Gazette)
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Perspective and improvement.

When you’re a racecar driver who works for a team that is not among the sport’s elite — more specifically, best-funded — those two things are necessary and vital. Cedar Rapids native Landon Cassill, who just finished his first season with Front Row Motorsports, has the former and is confident in the latter.

At the end of 2015, the implementation of the charter system left Cassill briefly unemployed before landing at FRM. Fast forward a year, and things are better career-wise than they have been before for the 27 year-old.

“It was for sure a net positive, but we definitely want more,” Cassill said. “Given everything the sport had gone through over the winter, with having my team essentially go out of business and the sport changing so much, it was good to come out on the good end of it and keep building.”

He and his dad, Roger, have long had the discussion about winning his race each week: beat the cars at your level financially and competitively. After his best season statistically, Cassill said he believes his No. 38 team did that this year.

Cassill finished 2016 with seven top-20 finishes (tied a career-high), 15 top-25s (a career-high), had a best finish of 11th at Talladega in the spring, and led 20 laps in the spring at Bristol, running inside the top 10 for almost half that race. He also had career-bests in average finish (26.3), lead lap finishes (10) and points position (29th).

Those numbers also make him one of the most successful drivers in FRM’s history over the course of a season, too. His average finish is the third best mark in the company’s history, bested only by Chris Buescher (26.1) this season and David Gilliland’s 26.2 in 2012.

This season checked off boxes Cassill hoped they would — with some left unchecked, to be certain.

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“The teams Front Row would kind of compare to in terms of level of funding and things like that, we outran those guys repeatedly and beat them in the points,” Cassill said. “I feel like we accomplished that, but it’s just kind of trying to figure out how we can get farther. That’s what you’re always trying to do.

“I’m kind of looking at everything I can do as well on my end — not just the fitness side of things, but any kind of training or studying I can work on, that’s what I’m working on.”

Cassill has that mindset because he seems to genuinely like where he’s at with FRM.

The contract for Cassill to return for next season is not official. Cassill said this week that it’s in the process of being finalized and “should be in the next week or so that it’s all buttoned up, but they’ve made it clear this is what they’re working towards and what they want to do, and I’m completely fine with that.”

Cassill is currently the only driver in FRM’s stable for NASCAR’s premier series — which Wednesday got a new series sponsor in Monster Energy — after Buescher was announced to be moving to JTG-Daugherty Racing with a leased charter from Roush Fenway Racing. What FRM does with the No. 34 still is to be determined, but Cassill said his entry looks to be in good shape sponsor-wise headed into 2017.

A return to FRM is ideal for Cassill because, he said, he’s seen what his team has done with technology and information from the alliance with RFR, and in turn what he’s then been able to do with that behind the wheel.

“I definitely like Front Row. I definitely like where I’m at. I think the goal is just continuing to build,” Cassill said. “We’re behind (Roush) five or six spots, and that’s where you see the 25ths or whatever. Essentially, we need to be in the 16th or 17th average area to put ourselves in position to make the Chase if you don’t have a win. We kind of see ourselves as right behind Roush, and they’re kind of on the cusp of (the Chase).

“Hopefully next year we can get ourselves closer to where they’re at by using their resources efficiently and essentially building the same cars they’re racing.”

Cassill has survived in NASCAR despite all the changes to the racing and financial landscape. With Monster coming in, the charter situation and the new TV rights deal a year old, the sport still hasn’t found its new-era footing.

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But that’s where the perspective comes in. Cassill wants to be in a racecar as long as he can — who wouldn’t? — and believes the sport is capable of finding what it needs.

It’s not unlike his personal chase for success, in fact.

“I think as long as I continue to be in a position I am now with a team like Front Row that has sponsors that are willing to stay apart of the program or a car owner that’s willing to stay in the program, that keeps you in business,” Cassill said. “I think (the sport) going to find itself and its direction here in the next couple years.

“I’m really hoping the new title sponsor (Monster) is willing to come in and pour in some marketing investment into the sport for their own benefit but also the benefit of the sport. … I think that’s going to decide the direction the sport takes over the next five or six years.”

l Comments: (319) 368-8884; jeremiah.davis@thegazette.com

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